TAXI

TAXI

A Story by A.T.B.

After a few hours, I got tired of sitting down as shoe shiners, beggars, men, women and children walked by in search of an illusive stroke of good luck, or in avoidance of that inevitable sense of mortification pressed on them by reality. My oneirism as I ogled the swinging supple derrieres of pulchritudinous women dissipated. My glass of Moroccan coffee had been empty and cold for quite some time now. I paid and left the Atlanta café and walked toward the post office on boulevard Panoramique. I stood on the curb for ten minutes trying to hail a taxicab before one stopped. It bluntly peeled off the traffic and came to a halt inches away from me; so close in fact that if I hadn’t curled my toes in, it would have rolled over them. I opened the door and jumped in the back.

“Assalamou ‘Alikoum!”

“’Alikoum salam! Where to, my brother?” the driver asked.

“Morizgo.”

I wasn’t going to Morizgo. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have anybody to visit there. My final destination was the blood bank next to Morizgo in Quartier des Hopitaux. Hajja was waiting for me there. But Morizgo was such a landmark.

The car lurched forward and we were off. The traffic was dense, but flowing with bicycles and motorcycles moving in latticelike fashion around cars and busses. Thick puffs of white and black exhaust fumes like macabre dancers in flowing gowns swirled to the cacophony of rumbling engines and blaring obnoxious horns. The day was unrelentingly hot and its brightness ponderous on the eyes. The car rattled as the engine emitted an uneasy chug. It grumbled with an unearthly grinding lament like a stabbed animal every time the driver shifted gear. I was praying the engine wouldn’t conk out on us. Hajja would never forgive me if I didn’t make it. The windows were rolled down and the winder handles on the back doors were missing. We drove past buildings that looked like diseased blackened lungs and people that seemed blithe. I lit up a cigarette and checked my phone. No missed calls. No messages. Good.    

“Is the meter working?” I asked after a few minutes. The sun bleached dashboard was adorned with flickering stickers of votive prayers.

“Wallah, it stopped working this morning, my brother,” he said with an easy laugh preening his beard with stubby fingers.

“How much are you gonna charge me for the trip?”

“Whatever you want,” he said with a smirk on his face. “How much do you usually pay for this ride?”

I smelled a rat. The question was loaded and he was setting me up for a con. He was trying to determine if I was local or not, if I knew my way around. I decided to play along.

“This is the first time I take a taxi from here to Morizgo.”

“I hope you’re alright, my brother. May Allah keep us away from that place,” he said with the unflappable demeanor of an off-duty actor.

“I’m alright!”

“These days everybody’s sick. May Allah grant us health and make us safe. I had a friend who’s about my age. As healthy as an ox…”

I cut him off. “So how much?”

“Wallah, my brother, no one will give you a ride for less than thirty Dirhams. Wallah I’m not adding one cent to the fare,” he lied with a deadpan mien.

I was spooked because thirty Dirhams was exactly what I had in my pocket.

“Thirty? Why? Is this a taxi or a Venezia Ice café? Pull over.”

“Slow down, my brother! We’re just talking,” he pleaded. “How much are you willing to pay?”

“Fifteen Dirhams is the fare. You know it and I know it. I’m not a tourist.”

“You don’t look like one. Fifteen Dirhams? That depends if you wanna be dropped off at the upper side or the lower one. Upper side will cost you thirty because the route is a bit longer. Lower side is fifteen, but it’ll take longer because of traffic. Are you in a hurry, my brother?

There was no upper side or lower side. No traffic either. It was a straight shot from here to there.

“Wallah, if they were not adding a dirham or two to the price of mazout everyday,” he bemoaned, “I would have given my brother a free ride. Aren’t the prices on fire these days?” he asked.

“With the meter, it’s fifteen Dirhams. Not a cent more, not one cent less.”

The man stiffened. He grabbed a threadbare towel and wiped the sweat from his fat nose and bald head then looked at me suspiciously through the rearview mirror. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and perspiration.

“May Allah give us what’s best for us,” he whispered as he drove on.

He dropped me off on Sabta street. Hajja was standing by the iron gate of the blood bank. Oodles of men and women were milling about; some were squatting against a wall or a tree basking in boredom, dodging the sun, the dust, the flies. Most were carrying ice boxes. Hajja hobbled to meet me with a pained gait, her face bearing a half-smile that was being quickly eroded by anxiety, her red-rimmed eyes tired. Her rotund body made her arms spread out as if for balance. Her daughter was behind her carrying a blue icebox for the blood. I haven’t seen her daughter in a few months. She was getting taller and prettier.

“Hajja, how have you been?”

“I’m in the hands of Allah.”

“May you get well. What time are you going for your treatment?”

“As soon as we’re done here.”

She extended her hand toward me and placed the money in the cup of mine. I quickly slid it in my pocket. We both entered the bank. Her daughter trailed behind us. We walked up to a nurse behind a metal desk. He was sitting there like a gargoyle surveying an empty waiting room. A folded newspaper was laid in front of him. An empty glass of mint tea sat discarded.

“Assalamou ‘Alikoum!”

“Wa ‘alikoum salam.”

“I came to give blood,” I explained.

“Whose blood are you giving?” He chuckled nervously before adding: “the card.”

I tossed my national identification card and a fake blood donor card on the desk. He opened a huge registry logbook and wrote my name in it. He pointed a despondent finger directing me to have a seat on one of the empty chairs.

“I want to give my blood to that lady,” I said turning toward Hajja.

He lifted his head and looked at us. Then he waved for Hajja to come closer.

“What do you need the blood for, lady?”

“Dialysis!”

“The card.”

She handed it to him.

“Sit down,” he ordered.  The doctor will see you in a minute.”

He stood up and trudged through a door. Few minutes later, he came back.

“The doctor will see you now.”

He led us into the doctor’s office. She was sitting behind her desk, a stethoscope hanging from her neck, shiny designer prescription glasses perched on the tip of her nose like a bird of bad omen. Her immaculate blouse was open revealing a dowdy outfit that shied away from stylish veneer. She sprung up from her chair grabbing a sphygmomanometer from her desk drawer.

“Why do you want to give blood?” she asked as she wrapped it around my arm.

“It’s my civic duty.”

“Is this lady family?”

“Yes! My aunt!” I lied.

“Have you had any dental work done recently?” she inquired gauging my pulse.

“No!”

“Are you taking any medication?”

“No!”

“Come with me.” She turned to Hajja: “have a seat in the waiting room; once the lab results on his blood come out, we’ll call you.”

She walked out of the office with an earnest gait leading me to another room. She bounced and shook her hips with every step the way shikhat of Khmissat would. Two nurses were chatting when we walked in. The doctor gave them instructions and walked out. They sat me on a chair and I closed my eyes. My mind wandered to Spain. Twice I tried to cross the strait; twice I failed. The second time I was so close though. I had paid a thick-necked truck driver. He hid me in a special compartment he had built in the floor of his trailer. Two other haragas were already hunkered down covered by a ragged blanket. We crossed at night. Once on the other side, he let us out and we ran along a ditch and across an asphalt road. We skulked in the bushes that night. At sun up, we headed north to Cadiz. A childhood friend from my neighborhood who had crossed a year earlier lived there and was making decent cash peddling trinkets to tourists on the beach. I had gotten his address from his brother. The heat was brutal. The only water I had was long gone and I had used the bottle as a urinal in the truck. We stopped at a gas station and used a garden spigot to drink and cool our heads. We returned to the trail, but before long police on motorcycles and four wheel drive vehicles cut our way. We were promptly arrested and deported back to Morocco.

“Wake up, mister,” I heard one of the nurses say as imagined images of my would be happy life in Europe had I not been deported swirled through my mind. She was standing next to me holding a collection bag of my blood. Another bag was on the shaking tray. I stood up. I dug into my pocket and pulled the money Hajja gave me earlier. Two rusty looking bills of a hundred Dirhams. I folded them and put them back in my pocket.

“Are we done?”

“Yes! Go sit outside; I’ll bring you some orange juice.”

I walked out to the waiting room. Hajja and her daughter were whispering to each other. The nurse was reading his newspaper and sipping a fresh glass of mint tea. He dolefully looked at me as I walked by him then dipped his head back into the newspaper.

“When is the next time, Hajja?”

“In two days.”

“I’ll call you to let you know which blood center it’ll be.”

“May God reward you.”

“It may not be me. I’ll find you somebody though.”

“Ok, my son.”

Her daughter looked up at me with almond eyes as if silently imploring. Her full lips moist and expecting. The ice box sat on her lap and she was leaning on it. A bit of her dazzling cleavage showed through the unbuttoned shirt. I caught myself staring at it like Ali Baba before the mouth of the treasure cave. Her slippers dangled from her toes like drooping dry fronds.

“Don’t you have school today?”

“She skipped school to come with me,” Hajja answered.

“Work hard and get your diploma. School is important,” I advised.

She nodded.

“Baslama, Hajja.”

“Baslama, my son.”

I walked outside. People were still gawking at passers-by. I lit up a cigarette and strolled to boulevard 2 Mars. I jumped into a cab that had just dropped a lady off.

“The post office of Ain Chok, please.”

The gruff looking driver didn’t turn to look at me. His saturnine face, partially hidden by his shoulder length tousled black hair, faced straight forward. He seemed deep in thought. Jil Jilala music was blaring from the tape player. He turned the knob on the meter and drove off. The taxi smelled of hashish. I was feeling dizzy. I let myself sink into the seat and closed my eyes. Despite the clanking, revving, and shouting going on around me, I dozed off lulled by the taxi’s judder. Every now and then, I would be jerked back into consciousness by an uncouth punch on the brakes throwing me forward or a sudden swerve that would sway me off my comfort. I opened my eyes expecting to see Al houda or Al Sunna Mosque. Instead, I realized the driver had turned off 2 Mars and into a smaller street. I recognized Ecole Charles de Foucauld on Driss I. He drove on to boulevard Anwal.

“Where you going, mister?”

“2 Mars was jammed. I took a little detour to save you some time. I’m heading back to 2 Mars now.”

“Jammed?”

“All them rich people in their fancy cars waiting for their pompous kids to come out of Ecole la Residence congest 2 Mars. The school lets out at about now.”

I looked at the meter. It read twenty-two Dirhams and clicking.

“Here we are,” he said pulling up in front of the post office. “Twenty-five.”

“Who told you I wanted to save time, my brother?”

“Well, we are here. So, it’s twenty-five.”

“Listen, I just made the trip from this very spot to Morizgo and it was fifteen,” I said with a voice tinged with anger. “You’re not gonna make me pay anything more.”

“I’m not making you pay anything. Pay what’s in the meter. It’s the law,” he said swiveling around his face marked by a scowle.

Tension between us quickly seethed. I stepped out of the taxi slamming the door behind me. He followed suit. He was shorter and thinner than me. His eyes were glazed. A large crowd started forming around us. Hands touched our backs and pulled on our arms spuring us on to fight. Voices interjected with comments and advice. A man said 2 Mars was never jammed and accused the driver of lengthening the drive. A woman asked me yelling why I wouldn’t pay the poor man his dues. Some onlookers, pleased by this unexpected entertainment, advised the driver to grab me by the collar lest I’d run. Others advised me to stand my ground. The crowd exuded a swelling feral urge and I felt its explosion looming. The driver was keeping an eye on his unlocked taxi. His keys jingled in his hand as he repeated that the meter was running and he did not add a cent to the fare.

“Let’s go to the police,” I blurted out. To my surprise and the crowd’s dismay, he agreed.  

The 18th precinct was a walking distance from where we stood, but we jumped back into the taxi and he drove us there. A group of gruff uniformed police officers stood by the entrance like Cerberuses. One of them, the one wearing his hat at a rakish angle, stopped us as we walked past.

“Where to fellas? Just walking in like it’s a barn. Are you two going to see somebody?” he asked scrutinizing us from head to toe. I realized then we were shabbily dressed, but the driver’s attire looked worse than mine. His wrinkled shirt was of a faded green and torn at the armpits. A visible dried sweat stain spotted a large part of his back. His face was unshaven and his hair was in disarray. The legs of his oversized pants were folded up to the knees. His sandals looked worn out.  

“We’re going in to see the police chief,” I said.

“The police chief? All at once? He must be waiting for you.” His buddies chuckled.

“I gave this guy a ride and he wouldn’t pay the fare,” the driver objected.

“That your taxi?” the officer asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re parked in a spot reserved for police cars,” the officer said pointing at the parking lot. He added: “let me see your hack license.”

“What police spot? There are no markings or signs indicating it’s a police spot,” the driver said.

“It’s next to a police station. It’s a police spot,” the officer said with a hardened tone as his extended hand was still waiting for the driver to surrender his license. He turned to me: “and you, let me see your national I.D. card.”

The driver tapped on his shirt pocket which was obviously empty and then checked the pockets of his pants. No license. I pulled out my I.D. and handed it over to the officer.

“What’s the problem,” he asked.

“This taxi driver took me on a long ride to make me pay more. I got in not far from Morizgo. I wanted to go to the post office. Instead of driving straight like he was supposed to, he took me on a sightseeing drive to jack up the price.”

“2 Mars was jammed because of Ecole la Residence,” the driver explained.

“Did this man consent to the detour? Did you ask him?” the officer asked.

“No.”

“People don’t pay you to stir the cab to whichever way you want.”

“If I didn’t make the detour, we would still be on 2 Mars.”

“So, what’s it to you?”

He looked at my I.D. card.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a student at the university.” I had dropped out of the university years ago. My I.D. card still said student and I had never bothered to update it.

“How much was added to the fare?”

“Ten Dirhams.”

He glowered at the driver.

“Where is your hack license?”

“I left it in my Taxi. Can I go get it?”

“Go,” he barked as he handed me my I.D. back.

As the driver walked back to the parking lot, one of the officers asked me: “What were you doing in Morizgo?”

“I gave blood. I try to help out whenever I can.”

“So you’re here to bust our balls for ten Dirhams?” another officer growled.

“It’s not about the money,” one of his fellow officers said. “It’s the principle.”

A police van pulled into the parking lot at high speed and screeched to a halt at the entrance of the station. The phalanx of police officers run to it. They opened the back hatch and a mob of angry men and women poured out swearing and kicking. Their faces were covered in blood and their clothes were in tatters. The officers had difficulties controlling them as they were reaching to maul one another. They dragged some and pulled others into the station as more officers came out.

“What’s going on?” someone asked.

“A neighborhood fight.”

Their yells and screams echoed inside the station as they argued. I checked the parking lot. The taxi was nowhere to be found. I was left by myself at the entrance of the precinct. I walked toward the boulevard and headed to Atlanta café. A redolent young woman with flowing black hair slinkily walked in front of me.

“what’s up beautiful?” I asked in a plummy tone as I caught up with her.

She beamed an incandescent smile at me, but she did not answer. I knew the type. Playing hard to get.

“How about you come with me. I’ll make it worth your while and I won’t keep you long.”

Her head was swathed in a fashionable foulard and her tight jeans made her look sublime. She walked to the road and tried to hail a taxi.

“You must be in a hurry,” I said. “Give me your number. I’ll call you and we’ll do it some other time.” 

A BMW stopped not far and she trotted to it, talked to the driver and got in as she smiled sweetly. I stood there looking on with my hand in my pocket caressing the risible two-hundred Dirhams Hajja gave me. 

© 2009 A.T.B.


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Added on October 22, 2009
Last Updated on October 23, 2009

Author

A.T.B.
A.T.B.

http://cabalamuse.wordpress.com



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I am neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring (from ASK THE DUST by John Fante.) I'm the author of writings that are yet to be understood. Soon, the world will catch on. more..

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